Having failed her college exams for a second time, an increasingly religious Faten leaves Morocco after narrowly escaping arrest. With a bachelor's in English Literature, Murad thought he'd easily find a job, but six years after graduation, he's only had one interview and, instead, spends his days trying to convince tourists to let him act as their tour guide. Aziz leaves behind his wife and mother because he even though has a certificate in repairs, he can't find a job. Beaten daily by her alcoholic husband who can't hold a job, Halima would gladly pay him for a divorce if it didn't mean leaving her children behind.
Lalami divides the book into before and after. By doing so, you're not sure who survived the trip. Even in knowing who survived, you aren't sure if they made it to Spain without incident or if they were deported back to Morocco. I loved her writing style and characters. Each one, though very different from another, was equally interesting and likable. I found myself hoping all of them made to Spain.
Prior to reading this, I never really gave much thought to Morocco and didn't realize it was so close to Spain. With its large Arabic population and Islamic influence, one can easily forget that it sits on the continent of Africa.
Published: January 2005
Size: 446,550 sq km; slightly larger than California
Ethnic groups: Arab-Berber 99%, other 1%
Languages: Arabic (official), Berber languages (Tamazight (official), Tachelhit, Tarifit), French (often the language of business, government, and diplomacy)
Theme: Hymne Cherifien (Hymn of the Sharif)